Category Archives: Readings

Give Silence a Chance

We’ve all no doubt heard endless chatter about how our world has become busy and noisy with nary a minute of silence to be found. No need to search far to find someone or some study telling us that we should turn down our iPhones, watch fewer channels on cable and try to escape to nature to distress ourselves. It all sounds good. After all, things can get pretty hectic even for the most monkish amongst us.

Well, religion can be a lot like that too. What with podcasts, websites, newsletters, sermons (yes, you might as well include this article), we seem to have become inundated with, dare I say, too much of a good thing. Not a day goes by without some church dispute hotly debated on a blog or some “expert” dispensing insight on how we should live our life. Really, it’s all become just too much. Sure, we rush from website to podcast trying to absorb as much as possible, but we never have any time to actually live it all out. With all the resources at our disposal, you would think that our faith in God would grow by leaps and bounds. But I am more convinced than ever that the opposite is true. I think we have to admit that all this wisdom and knowledge has not lead us to “progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly” (Philippians 3:10 AMP). In our hurried quest for knowledge we’ve left no time to taste that the Lord is good.

Enough!

God created us for His glory. St Paul says that all things were created through Jesus and for Him (Colossians 1:16). So if we’re going to start savoring Christ in order to become more and more like Him, we need to stop filling every moment with something, even if that something is religious. In Psalm 46 we read: “Cease striving and know that I am God” (v.10). The key word in this short but powerful line is the command to “cease.” It is translated alternatively as: Stop! Calm down! Be still!

We need more than just moments of quiet. We need whole periods of time when we aren’t searching to debate church issues or solve ethical dilemmas. We need silence from striving to learn how to be better Christians. In short, we need hesychia—to keep stillness. St Gregory the Theologian wrote, “it is necessary to be still in order to have clear conversation with God and gradually bring the mind back from its wanderings.” If everything we do is supposed to bring us closer to God and make us more like Him, then striving after a quiet mind, St Gregory says, is the first step towards our sanctification.

Stillness as Communion
St Basil the Great said that it is in silence that we return to our true selves by slowly moving towards God. It is in these periods of quiet solitude that the essence of who we are and the mystery of our relationship with God is truly felt. After all, is this not the same call that Jesus heard time and time again as he retreated to the deserts of Judea, to be still and to be with God?

The early Christians also felt this desire for a place of quiet – even stillness from the busyness of church life, to find communion with God, true communion. Because as St John of the Ladder wrote it is in stillness that we worship God.

Even in this age where knowledge can be had and discarded so easily, God still listens to us in silence. It is in silence that we get to know who God is and it is also where we discover who we are. When we “go away by ourselves to a quiet place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31 NLT) in the stillness of God, that is when God speaks to us the loudest.

A Gentle and Quiet Whisper
So, how can silence and stillness do so much? It’s hard to say. You can chalk it up as one of the mysteries of godliness. But there is a wonderful story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah that perhaps explains it best.

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of God. He was strong, faithful, and determined to do God’s bidding with a people who lost their way more often than not. In one compelling instance, Elijah was called upon by God to defeat the false prophets of a phony god by the name of Baal. Elijah did just that. But as a result, his life was soon threatened and running for his life, he escaped to the desert. Exhausted and despairing, Elijah asked God to take his life! He bemoaned how the people of Israel had turned away from God, destroyed the places of worship, murdered the true prophets and now were out to get him as well. Then, in Elijah’s moment of silence and solitude, it all made sense: “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by. A hurricane ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there” (1 Kings 19:11-14 MSG).

God didn’t speak to Elijah in the thunderous noise of an earthquake or fire but rather in the quiet of a gentle whisper. It is in these quiet moments, kneeling in silence, that we hear God. And it is also in those repeated moments, with our ear constantly to God that we become able to, as St John of the Ladder said, “live outwardly with men but inwardly with God.”

I know we tend to like a different way of doing things—more engaging and provoking—perhaps prodding others to move towards God. But even Jesus gave us a very different example. Remember, how He alone slept (on a pillow no less!) in the boat with the disciples during a violent storm? It was Christ’s stillness that calmed the waters (Mark 4:35-41). When we learn to also be still and silent, face to face with God, then I believe we too will be calm in the presence of the demands and expectations of this hurried life; we too will project our own inner stillness to a confused and noisy world.

John Kapsalis is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary.

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The Message of the Blind Man

John 9:1-38

The manner in which Christ healed the blind man was very strange, and caused much questioning among those who witnessed the event. I do not intend to concentrate on the miracle as such, but rather on one detail which is of symbolic significance for anyone who has learnt to look beyond the merely apparent.

For the one who has learnt to think, to contemplate, to penetrate the signifiers and reach the signified. What does the reading mean when it states: “He made mud and spread it on my eyes”? This symbolic gesture of Christ is intended to show us that salvation is in our midst, and that healing is by our side. The earth which we tread upon and exploit is sacred ground.

And when man takes it into his hands with a pleasing and grateful spirit, this earth not only produces all kind of fruit (how many colours, aromas and tastes!), but has the capacity of moving us to the point of realizing that God is in and on the soil. Since God created the world and gave it to humankind to enjoy. He placed man and woman in paradise (see Gen. 2:8), which means in the midst of happiness. And this humble ground which we do not value, respect or honour sometimes, and which has so many natural powers, surprises us with its nakedness and the sheer variety of its products. When we are faithful to the earth, it is our body, and our body is the earth. Sooner or later, they are identified with each other once again; my body and yours will return to the body of the earth from where they came, and they will glorify God in silence – not in rebellion, as when we are alive. So, in this world, within us and around us, is salvation. Do not expect supernatural actions of God on a daily basis: for the heavens to open up and for angels to come down. Do not wait for a message to come on the clouds. Do not wait for the invisible God to speak to you in a thunderbolt.

God gave all creation for the purpose of thanksgiving and transfiguration. He placed the human person at the centre of the world, between earth and heaven, between visible and invisible. He established the human person not as an abuser of the gift, but as priest and celebrant and beholder of the divine. To take creation in his hands and offer it as we offer the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ.

The blind man was a tragic figure because, as we chanted in the relevant hymn of the Church: “I could not see the sun shining, nor even could I see the image of Him who made me.” The reality is that the blind man is less tragic and unfortunate than us who think we can see. We who have our health, our sight, with everything around us observable like an open book, in fact remain blind. Our eyes function, but we do not use them in a manner that is worthy of God. We have ears, but do we listen to His word? We have hands, but have we performed His will? We have legs, but have we brought His Gospel to those who have yet to know it? We have the sense of smell, but do we perceive that from all created things a fragrance rises, to the glory of God?

And in spite of this, only man pollutes the earth and creates ecological problems. Which other creature of God, which animal – even the wildest – has created an ecological problem in the world? Neither the lion, nor the ravens have managed to bring to extinction any species created by God in the Six Days of Creation. Man is close to extinguishing so many species of both flora and fauna. Man is in danger of extinguishing the human race itself.

You may ask: How can you call us all blind? It is not I who say this. Everyday experience tells us that we are all blind. I will only remind you of the definition of the creative and sensitive person, i.e. of the poet, given by Yannis Ritsos, one of the greatest poets of modern Greece. Ritsos said: “The poet is one who has overcome blindness”. Why did he say this? Because the poets manage to see in the same mundane things which we all see around us, and handle and use on a daily basis, an eternal dimension: the voice of God, as well as His and our fellow human being’s ‘nobility’. They see the spirit taking tangible form, ‘solidified’ in specific objects.

They see beyond the visible, and hear beyond the audible. Let us pray that God will enable us to see within ourselves the spiritual blindness, the inner blindness which affects the whole person, and that our eyes will be open to see further and deeper into the daily reality of life.

† Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, Writings & Homilies of Archbishop Stylianos

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The Ascension of Our Lord

The Lord Jesus passed forty days on earth after His Resurrection from the dead, appearing continually in various places to His disciples, with whom He also spoke, ate, and drank, thereby further demonstrating His Resurrection. On this Thursday, the fortieth day after Pascha, He appeared again in Jerusalem. After He had first spoken to the disciples about many things, He gave them His last commandment, that is, that they go forth and proclaim His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But He also commanded them that for the present, they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait there together until they receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

Saying these things, He led them to the Mount of Olives, and raising His hands, He blessed them; and saying again the words of the Father’s blessing, He was parted from them and taken up. Immediately a cloud of light, a proof of His majesty, received Him. Sitting thereon as though on a royal chariot, He was taken up into Heaven, and after a short time was concealed from the sight of the disciples, who remained where they were with their eyes fixed on Him. At this point, two Angels in the form of men in white raiment appeared to them and said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:11). These words, in a complete and concise manner, declare what is taught in the Symbol of Faith concerning the Son and Word of God.

Therefore, having so fulfilled all His dispensation for us, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat at the right hand of God the Father. As for His sacred disciples, they returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, rejoicing because Christ had promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

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Saint Photini the Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles: Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

As we continue to celebrate the new life that Jesus Christ’s resurrection has brought to the world, we are reminded today that His mercy and blessing extend to all, even the most unlikely people, like the Samaritans and those who are despised and rejected by respectable society.

The Jews hated the Samaritans as religious and ethnic half-breeds because they had mixed the ethnic heritage and the religion of Israel with that of other peoples. No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a Samaritan, much less ask one for a drink of water. But Jesus Christ did, and a Samaritan woman came to recognize Him as the Messiah, to believe in Him, and to lead many other Samaritans to the faith. She ultimately becomes Saint Photini, an evangelist and martyr with the title “equal to the apostles.”

All the more remarkable is the fact that she was not only a Samaritan, but she was a woman. Jewish men simply did not strike up conversations with women in public. Women had low status in that time and place and were not expected to have deep theological conversations with rabbis. But this Messiah operated differently. He saw in her one made in the image and likeness of God who, like every one of us, is called to a life of holiness, regardless of where we stand in worldly hierarchies.

The Samaritan woman also seemed an unlikely candidate for holiness because of her history with men. She had been married five times and was then living with a man outside of marriage. Some have suggested that she went to the well at noon, an unusual time to do so, in order to avoid encountering the other women of her village due to her bad reputation. The Lord knew about her history, but did not condemn, judge, or ignore her as a result. Perhaps because she appreciated His respect and genuine concern, she acknowledged to Him the truth about her life and their conversation continued. Quite possibly, she had never encountered a man who had treated her in this way before as a beloved child of God.

And very soon, she told the men of her village that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Can you imagine how surprised they probably were to hear this woman speaking to them of God, for they surely were not used to thinking of her as an especially religious person? Think of how brave Photini was, how radically her life was changed through her encounter with Jesus Christ.

We will make a mistake this Pascha if we think that the good news of Christ’s resurrection is only for people who live what we consider to be admirable lives, those who measure up to our standards, or who are members of groups that we admire. We must not exclude anyone from the possibility of embracing the new life brought into the world by the empty tomb, even if they presently order their lives in less than ideal ways—as is true of us all in some respects. Jesus Christ Himself brought the blessing of His kingdom to a Samaritan woman with an immoral lifestyle. She was changed by His mercy and changed her ways. Who knows how many came to share in His eternal life through her witness and ministry?

We learn from the story of St. Photini that we must not write off anyone as a hopeless case. We must not isolate ourselves from those whose lives seem especially broken and off course—or even perverse and godless. If we respond with hatred, judgment, or stony silence to those we deem unworthy, we turn away from Christ’s ministry of bringing new life to the whole world. For which of us has the right to cast the first stone at a sinner? Our Saviour never condoned sin of any kind and neither should we; but He came not to condemn, but to save. He came to bring sinners to repentance, to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind. He died and rose again for the salvation of all created in His image and likeness, of the entire world. He has made great saints of murderers, adulterers, and evildoers of every kind who have called on His mercy and changed their lives.

When we have the opportunity to show compassion or friendship or encouragement to someone whose life is off course and who seems very far from following Jesus Christ, we should do so. Whenever anyone who bears the image of God is treated as less than human, we should show them the love of Christ. When we have the chance to draw into our church community someone whose life has been noticeably less than perfect, we should not hesitate. Yes, we should treat them as our Lord treated the Samaritan woman who became a great saint. To do anything less is to place our own limits on the power of the Risen Lord to bring salvation to the world—and it is to refuse to follow in the way of the One who conquered death.

St. Photini is also a powerful example for each of us as we struggle with our own sins, passions, bad habits, and weaknesses. Sometimes the burden of our sinfulness is great and we are tempted to despair of ever finding peace and healing in our lives. The standards of Christ are so high and we are so low. We can become obsessed with our unworthiness; and if we are not careful, this way of thinking can lead us away from the Church, for the guilt and frustration of spiritual failure are hard to bear, and we often would simply rather not think about it.

St. Photini was no stranger to such failures, but she learned to keep her eyes on the prize of the new life in Christ. Perhaps her experiences had taught her humility. She knew she was a sinner and must have been thrilled finally to be on a path that would take her in a different direction. We do not know the details, but she surely faced struggles, temptations, and reminders of the mess that she had made of her life. Some of those difficulties probably occurred in her own thoughts. Some people probably continued to view her in a judgmental light, for there are always those who appoint themselves as self-righteous judges of their neighbours and like to look down on them.

Despite these obstacles, the Samaritan woman with a checkered past became a glorious saint, an evangelist equal to the apostles and ultimately a martyr. If she could pass over from sin to righteousness, from death to life, in Christ Jesus, then we can, too. The great blessing of Pascha comes to us all, and we have countless opportunities in our families, our marriages, our parish, our friendships, our workplace, our use of time, money, and energy, in all our thoughts, words, and deeds, to participate more fully in the Lord’s victory over sin and death.

No matter what we have done in the past, no matter our present weaknesses and challenges, no matter what anyone thinks or says about us, we must remember that the Son of God has conquered death in order to bring us into the eternal life of the Holy Trinity, to make us partakers of the divine nature. Like the Samaritan woman, we must acknowledge our corruption and turn to Christ with faith, love, and hope for a new life, and then continue on the journey of discipleship, even when we stumble or are tempted to give up.

Just as we ask for the Lord’s mercy on our sins, we must extend the same mercy to others. The Saviour spoke the truth with love and respect for the Samaritan woman, but he did not condemn or judge her. And He has surely not appointed any of us to judge others either.

St. Photini did not earn the new life given her by Christ, and Pascha is not a reward given to us for our good behavior. During this season of Pascha, we know that life eternal has sprung from an empty tomb purely as the result of our Lord’s love and mercy. The good news of Pascha extends to the Samaritan women of our day and even to us. So let us embrace our Risen Lord and become participants in His life. He raised up St. Photini and brought her from darkness into light; and He will do the same for us when we respond with faith and repentance: that is the gloriously good news of this season of resurrection. Let us embrace Him by living a holy life that draws others into the new day of the Heavenly Kingdom, even as did St. Photini the Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles.

Fr. Philip LeMasters


The original name of the Samaritan woman is not known, but the church knows her as Photini, “Equal to the Apostles”. She was baptized after the resurrection, and in a continuation of her zealous apostolic ministry begun on the day she met the Lord, preached in many areas, including Carthage and Smyrna in Asia Minor, where she was martyred. She had five daughters and two sons, all of whom became martyrs. She is commemorated February 28th, and, of course, on the fifth Sunday of Pascha.

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ST JOHN THE RUSSIAN

Commemorated on 27 May

St John was born around 1690 in the south of Russia to pious Orthodox parents. Upon reaching maturity he was called to service in the army of Peter I, to serve as a simple soldier. During the Prutsk campaign of the Russo-Turkish war he was taken prisoner. As the case then, he ended up as a slave of the Turkish cavalry commander who took John to his home in the village of Prokopion, near Caesarea in Asia Minor.

Like all captured Christian soldiers, John was threatened, tortured, subjected to all means to convert him to the Moslem faith. John was resolute in his resistance to this inhumane treatment, bravely enduring humiliations and beatings. Noting John’s firm faith, his master’s heart softened and John was assigned to take care of his master’s stable, which also became his living quarters. Recalling the cave and manger where his Saviour came into the world, John rejoiced in his small dark corner of the stable as a little paradise where he could freely pray and offer praises to the true God. Occasionally, John would leave his bed to keep vigil at the nearby Church of the Great Martyr George, and on Saturdays and Feast days receive Holy Communion.

As the cavalry commander prospered, he understood his blessings and prosperity came through his servant John, and noted this to his fellow citizens.

Foreseeing his end, John called for a priest from the church he had attended and asked to partake of the immaculate mysteries. The priest was afraid to openly bring the Eucharist into the stable. Being divinely inspired, he dug the core out of an apple and lined the cavity with beeswax and placed the communion inside. He then visited the saint at the stables and gave him Communion.

After receiving communion, John fell asleep in the Lord on May 27, 1730.

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Healed to Rise Up and Walk: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic

John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen!

We do not like to be dragged down or held back by problems that we cannot solve. Whether it is our own health, a broken relationship with others, or a complex set of circumstances over which we have little control, it is very frustrating to know our weakness before seemingly insurmountable challenges.

That is surely how the invalids, blind, lame, and paralyzed felt as they waited for the chance to be healed by being the first to reach the pool of water troubled by the angel. Due to their illnesses, many must have despaired over ever being healed. The man who had been paralyzed for 38 years was one of those, for there was no one to help him move toward the water. Here we have an image of humanity before the coming of Christ. The Jews had a Temple in which animals were sacrificed, and the pool provided water for washing lambs before they were offered to God. This scene occurs at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which commemorated Moses receiving the Law, which was given by angels.

Fallen humanity, however, remained spiritually weak and sick. They lacked the strength to fulfill God’s requirements, and certainly could not conquer death, the wages of sin for all those who have fallen short of the glory of God. The sacrificial system of the Temple foreshadowed the great Self-Offering of our Lord on the Cross, but did not heal anyone from the ravages of spiritual corruption or raise anyone from the grave. It was a great blessing for the Jews to have the Law, but surely also a tremendous frustration not to have the strength to obey it fully. Only Christ Himself fulfilled the Law, which is why He can call and empower us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)

In contrast, the paralyzed man represents all who lack the power to move themselves to complete healing, to find the fulfillment of our common human calling to become like God in holiness. Notice that he did not call out to Christ to help him; instead, the Lord reached out to him, asking “Do you want to be healed?” That may seem like a strange question, for presumably anyone waiting by a pool for healing after 38 years of illness would want to be made well. But think for a moment about how we have all learned to adapt to our favorite sins, how we have become comfortable with whatever forms of corruption have become second nature to us over the years. By virtue of coming to Church, we are apparently religious people, but that does not mean that we truly want to be healed. For to be healed means obeying the Lord’s command to this fellow: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” It requires making the effort to rise up in obedience, to be transformed personally in how we live each day, and to grow in holiness.

It would not have sufficed for that man to have remained on his bed and have warm feelings about how Christ had healed him. Just as anyone who lies motionless for a long time will become weak and unable to rise up and walk on his own power, the same will be true of us spiritually if we try to rest content with simply believing ideas about God or having positive emotions about Him. If we are not gaining strength by actually serving Him faithfully, we will become paralyzed and unable to cooperate with our Lord’s gracious healing energies. Any spiritual health that we claim in that state will be a figment of our imagination.

The good news is that the Lord does not simply provide us with a set of rules to follow or services to perform. He makes us participants in Himself by grace. He unites us to Himself, raising us up with Him from slavery to sin and death to the great dignity of those who share in His eternal life. The Saviour makes us members of His own Body, the Church. He is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. He makes us radiant in holiness, like an iron left in the fire of the divine glory. That is how He heals us such that we have the strength to obey His command to get up from our bed of corruption and move forward in a blessed life of holiness.

Though we may not yet have the eyes to see it, this healing and strengthening of our humanity happens to this day through our life in the Church. In our reading from Acts, St Peter heals a paralyzed man and commands him to get up. He even raises a woman from death. Peter did not do this by his own power or authority, but because the Lord was working through him. He said to the paralyzed man, “Jesus Christ heals you…” Throughout Acts, we read of how the Lord works through His Body, the Church, to enable people to participate personally in the new life of the resurrection that He shares with us by grace.

That is not, however, a life of merely having our names on a church membership roll or of calling ourselves Orthodox Christians. If our faithfulness extends only that far, we will become as weak as a person who remains immobile in bed and refuses to stand up and walk. We must not be like those poor souls waiting by the pool for someone else to move them into the healing water. On His own gracious initiative, Jesus Christ has given each of us the strength to overcome the paralysis of sin through His resurrection. He does not simply give us commands; He gives us Himself. And our life in His Body, the Church is truly our participation in Him.

We receive His healing of our souls when we humbly repent of our sins in Confession. We are nourished for the life of the Kingdom by His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. When we offer our time, energy, and resources to support the ministries of the Church, we rise up from selfishness to participate in the abundant generosity of the Lord. When we stop thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals and instead as members of a Body with a common life in Christ, we will be able to love and serve one another in ways that will open us to His strength personally and collectively in powerful ways.

In the joy of the resurrection, we must learn to see that embracing our life together in Christ is an essential dimension of obeying His command to “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” He calls each of us to turn away from the paralyzing weakness of selfishness and laziness that would make whatever sins we have become comfortable with appear more important than serving Him in His Body, the Church, where the glory and power of the resurrection are fully present.

Think about that for a moment. Pascha is not an isolated event that happened long ago, but an entrance into the new day of the Kingdom of Heaven which is fully open to us in the worship and common life of this parish. The Saviour calls each of us, weakened and held back by the corruptions of sin, to get up and move forward in the blessed life for which He made us in His image and likeness. That is why He died and rose again, to raise us up with Him for a life of holiness, to restore us to the ancient dignity of Paradise. May this season of Pascha be our entrance as a parish into the joy of the Kingdom. That will happen when we rise up, from whatever corruptions are holding us back, to a life of obedience in serving Him and one another in His Body, the Church. That is the only way to answer the question that He asks each of us today and every day: “Do you want to be healed?” Christ is Risen!

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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The embrace of the Church is always open to us…

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

Brothers and Sisters! The all-merciful God desires happiness for us both in this life and in the life to come.

To this end He established His Holy Church, so that she might cleanse us from sin, sanctify us, reconcile us with Him and give us a heavenly blessing.

The embrace of the Church is always open to us. Let us all hasten there more quickly, we whose consciences are burdened. Let us hasten, and the Church will lift the weight of our burdens, give us boldness before God, and fill our hearts with happiness and blessedness.

St Nectarios of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 1


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